SOUTH-WEST BUSINESSES ARE THE “MOST ASTUTE” IN THE UK WHEN IT COMES TO SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT

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Posted 1 year ago

Report by community interest company Action Net Zero identifies key opportunities for businesses in the South West to embrace cleaner energy to reduce consumption and costs – however they need support to reach their targets

The report ‘Driving the Energy Agenda’ follows a roundtable discussion between West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris and ten energy decarbonisation experts to look at the opportunities and challenges to move towards net zero.

Organised and hosted by Action Net Zero, the event was sponsored by global vacuum and abatement innovators, Edwards – a company employing over 800 people in the South West which is committed to reducing its impact on the environment. 

The round table panel acknowledged the rising energy costs associated with the cost-of-living crisis and the ongoing war in Ukraine, as well as a commitment by many businesses to meet environmental targets, has resulted in a focus on regaining control of energy supplies and a move towards lasting sustainable change.

Renewable electricity generation in the West of England Combined Authority region has more than doubled since 2014, with solar devices (photovoltaics) currently providing 44% of locally-generated renewables and onshore wind providing 20%. 

However, as the report points out, this still only constitutes 11% of the region’s total electricity consumption. 

Ensuring the National Grid is robust enough to manage a switch to renewable energy as soon as possible is critical to moving forward in any meaningful way, as “the existing grid infrastructure simply isn’t fit to manage the demand and support a distributed supply of renewable energy.” 

This means that much of the energy currently being generated by businesses’ solar panels is being wasted – in other words it cannot yet be fed back into the Grid, perhaps earning extra revenue for any company which invests in solar panels.

Dan Norris says the change is essential and believes there is a wealth of opportunity for the region. 

“The UK is one of the biggest CO2 emitters in the history of the planet, yet we only make up 0.5% of the land area. We need to set the standard for clean, low-emission development.” 

South West business is, he says “way ahead of politicians when it comes to the environment,” and “probably the most astute” of anywhere in the UK. 

He believes it’s vital to put pressure on local and national government to ensure policies, funding and regulations align. Dan is confident the region is in a good position to apply this pressure.

Neil Mehta, General Manager of the event’s sponsors, Edwards (based in Clevedon), agrees. “Moving away from fossil fuels has never been so important, from both a business and regional resilience perspective. If we now think about energy as a key driver for success in a business, reducing our consumption has to be a priority.” 

Education is also seen as a key component in creating opportunity for the region and addressing a skills shortage in the renewable sector. The report calls for the education sector in the region to train the engineers of tomorrow. 

For example, many larger businesses are currently unable to make use of the Apprenticeship Levy, which would normally allow them to use money from their digital fund to pay for apprentices. 

If this barrier was removed it would be “a great way to support upskilling as well as to bring more trained professionals into key sectors to combat the climate crisis[1] .” 

Joanne Philpott, who is Vice Principal for Curriculum Delivery and Technical Innovation at Weston College, believes providing additional training to those currently in the workforce by “encouraging transitional skills, such as EV charging skills for electricians,” is another opportunity to move closer to sustainable goals. 

She says: “This would allow people with existing skills to build a career in a more sustainable industry.”

She suggests that increasing the availability of courses will help meet the demand to provide the skills required to bring us closer to a net zero future.

Other key initiatives suggested by the report include: 

●      Increasing the number of charging options for HGVs. 

●      Investing in key areas of public transport to make it a more attractive option for consumers, while also increasing awareness of public transport options that are currently under-utilised.

●      Disentangling legal complexity around the installation of renewable systems.

●      Integrating renewable energy supply into all new homes as standard while also allowing greater use of roof space for solar panels. 

Creating community energy initiatives in which businesses and homeowners can share locally-generated electricity is also discussed and it points to the wider value of this kind of initiative. An example might be a sports club having chargers installed in their car park which can be used by members of the local community.

Under this model, surplus cash is redistributed as grants to support community action on carbon reduction and fuel poverty, helping to reduce bills and redirect profits back into the community.

“Innovation in technology and finance has opened up new opportunities,” said Pam Barbato, founder of Action Net Zero, “and it’s a very exciting time to be addressing these issues. The bottom line is that we need to act and we need to act now. 

“This report is a valuable contribution towards being able to do this in a meaningful way because it crystalises clear, practical and achievable pathways to a greener and more efficient future for business and community in a broader way. 

“We’re keen to support all businesses in the South West, but especially larger businesses such as manufacturing companies that use a lot of energy, to help them reduce their energy consumption, save costs and reach sustainability goals. 

“With only 11% of energy provision across the region being generated by renewables, there are many opportunities, particularly for owner operator sites,  to positively impact their business’s strategic goals and improve their energy resilience.”

To see the report in detail visit https://www.actionnetzero.org/guides-and-tools/round-table-report/